As is the growing case these days in the NHL with a relatively flat salary cap and being wary of potential salary arbitration awards, teams have decided to part way with promising younger players. Last year, this special group of unexpected free agentss was highlighted by Dylan Strome, who got released by Chicago only to sign with Washington and put up a 65-point season for the Capitals. Dominik Kubalik was in the same boat, and ended up with a 20 goal, 45 point season in Detroit. Sonny Milano and Danton Heinen were in the same boat.
Useful players can be found, and sometimes on relatively team-friendly contracts. Who are the best in the class of 2023 unqualifieds?
It looked like the mercurial but talented Daniel Sprong was finally getting his career on track on his fourth team in Seattle in 2022-23. Sprong scored 21 goals and 46 points in a limited but very effective role. However, those big boxcars also may have made the Kraken shy away from committing to him in the future. He did very well in 2022-23, but is he worth paying when he was kept to a lower minute per game ceiling? Seattle said no.
Given his history with Mike Sullivan, it’s unlikely the Penguins would be terribly interested in Sprong. But someone out there should be able to add a quality scorer, and likely without a huge commitment in term or salary.
Jost, 25, has already traveled a long road in his professional career - playing 413 career games for three different NHL teams. Jost combined to score 25 points with Minnesota and Buffalo this season. Jost has some center capability (though at 38.3% in faceoffs, he’s one of the worst in the league in that category). He should be able to provide NHL caliber play somewhere, including perhaps back in Buffalo, who reportedly will hope to keep talking to him. Just not at the $2.0 million that he made last year.
Turning 25 this summer, Geekie has developed into a solid lower line player. At 6’3” and 200 pounds he will add some size somewhere. Last year he plied his trade in Seattle, scoring nine goals and 28 points in 69 games last season.
The Hockey News was already on this one:
In 2020-21, Comtois looked like he was turning a corner with 16 goals and 33 points in 54 games with the Ducks. Since then his career has stagnated and a change of scenery should do him well as he moves onto the next chapter of his career. At 6’2, 210, Comtois will add some size and a bit of grit to his new club, and at just 24-years old would be among the younger players on the team too.
Fischer is another player who has seemingly been around forever, having played 398 games with the Coyotes since 2017, and only turned 26 years old in April. Fischer, at 6’2”, 212 pounds is another player who profiles with size and can play up and down the lineup. Playing in the disaster of the desert, who knows if his game can improve or do better in a better spot.
The Pens are looking to add a bunch of forwards, and any of these options would be worth pursuing depending on the interest they might have and the type of salary or role they could command elsewhere.